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The month’s best science images

Drone footage shows the scale of devastation following the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma. A large amount of lava began oozing out of the volcano in mid-September, burying everything in its path as it flowed all the way to the island’s west coast. The lava eventually spilled over the cliffs and into the Atlantic Ocean, creating a ‘low island’ more than half a kilometre wide.

See more of the month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.

Nature | Leisurely scroll

COP26: Inside the science

Trees consumed by the Dixie fire at night

The Dixie wildfire in California this year was the second-largest in state history, and was fuelled by high temperatures and drought.Credit: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg/Getty


Climate scientists brace for impact

Many authors of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report are anxious about the future and expect to see catastrophic changes in their lifetimes. Ninety-two of the 233 living IPCC authors responded to an anonymous survey by Nature. About 60% of the respondents expect the world to warm by at least 3 °C by the end of the century, compared with what conditions were like before the Industrial Revolution. That is far beyond the Paris agreement’s goal to limit warming to 1.5–2 °C. Most of the survey’s respondents — 88% — think global warming constitutes a ‘crisis’, and just under half said that global warming has caused them to reconsider major life decisions, such as where to live and whether to have children.

Nature | 8 min read

Chart showing answers to question: How much warming above pre-industrial times do you think is likely by 2100?

Source: Nature analysis


Today at COP

India surprised the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) by making its first ever net-zero commitment. It has pledged to reach the milestone by 2070 — 20 years behind the 2050 commitment made by the United States and Europe and 10 years behind China. But it does include notable targets along the way, such as having 50% of India’s power generated by renewable energy by 2030.

Among further pledges from industry and others, countries committed to a big goal to halt deforestation by 2030 — again. More than 100 leaders, accounting for more than 86% of the world’s forests, promised to work together to reverse forest loss and land degradation in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. The world has seen similar promises before, notably at the 2014 UN summit on climate change, held in New York. A surprise signatory is Brazil, where deforestation has been rising under the pro-business government of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Hobbled by delays in Congress, US President Joe Biden has come to the conference largely empty-handed except for new regulatory measures to limit global methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade. Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed COP in a written statement that did not advance the country’s climate plans, but did call on richer nations to do more to help lower-income countries.

Ultimately, at this year’s pivotal COP meeting, the overarching question is: how will laudable goals be achieved? “These mid-century pledges are easy to make and hard to accomplish,” says Nature journalist Jeff Tollerson. “That’s why everyone is making them.”

Nature journalist Ehsan Masood agrees. “The pledges will come thick and fast,” he predicts. Beware the ones that are “too long-range to be credible”.

We are gathering our coverage of COP26 in this collection, featuring a scientists’ guide to what success looks like and what’s on the line (12 min read).


Briefing reader get-together at COP26

I am hosting an informal in-person event for Briefing readers at COP in Glasgow. Please join me and fellow Nature journalists at the University of Glasgow on the evening of Wednesday, 10 November. This event is free, but please register in advance because places are limited.

Register free for our meet-up at COP

Features & opinion

Refining the toolkit for sugar analysis

Antibodies and other reagents for glycans have lagged behind those for proteins and nucleic acids, but the field is catching up. “Glycans form an essential biological language, the glycome,” says glycobiologist Mark von Itzstein.

Nature | 7 min read

How to gum up the doubt machine

Anthropologist Cecília Tomori studies how science is hijacked by industry to bolster false claims. She was saddened to see the same patterns arise during the pandemic — with scientists sometimes unwittingly playing into the hands of misinformation-peddlers. Using knowledge from the field of agnotology (the study of deliberate spreading of confusion), Tomori outlines how researchers can successfully grapple with merchants of doubt.

Nature | 8 min read

Quote of the day

“In my lifetime I've witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery.”

Iconic naturalist David Attenborough, who is 95 years old, urged decision-makers to rewrite the human story from tragedy to triumph in his speech to COP. (BBC | 3 min read)